Easter is a special time for me. To me, God suddenly becomes more real, more present, more… believable. It’s something I think I need, if I’m to keep going, keep believing.
Last year at Easter, I talked about doubt, about how I struggle with the difference between believing and knowing, how religious feeling doesn’t feel very strongly to me.
In the past year, I’ve thought about that a lot. Why can’t I feel religious, why can’t I experience a closeness with God? Somehow, God must have been reading my thoughts, because my Sunday school class started considering those questions.
In the fall, we spent a couple weeks studying Knitter’s Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. At the time, I thought it hippy-dippy bullshit, but I was intrigued by Knitter’s voyage and his insight into meditation and contemplation. Evidently, other people in the class had similar thoughts, and the teachers decided that this spring would be an extended study on Christian contemplative tradition.
In short, contemplative Christianity is about emptying one’s self and inviting God into that space. The first step, meditation, has a lot in common with other practices. The later steps, contemplation and the experience of God in that prepared space, I can’t tell you much about – it still seems vague to me, weird. All the books we’ve studied – from Theresa of Avila’s work and John of the Cross’s poetry – explain types of experiences and existences that I’ve never had myself.
When we began these studies, I was completely horrified. I couldn’t do it at all. I couldn’t focus on nothing, couldn’t figure out even what the teachers meant. But I kept trying. When I thought I’d gotten at least the first step and figured out how to meditate, even in a very limited capacity, I realized that it was possible to pursue this route to religiosity. For Lent, I decided to try at least 5 minutes of contemplative-type prayer per day.
I don’t know if I’ve gotten any closer to God. I might never succeed at being a true contemplative, but you know? I am way better at falling asleep now. Before this experiment began, it would take me an hour or more after lying down and trying to sleep before I would actually fall asleep. Now? 5 minutes of contemplative prayer before bed, and I can pretty easily drift off. That alone has been worth it.
What’s better, I’ve gotten to a point where I can get super stressed at work, then go sit at my desk and put myself into this calmer place. I don’t understand how that works, but I’m just going to take it and run.
I don’t think it was an empty pursuit. There’s something in this meditation and contemplation, and perhaps I’ll try to continue the practice. I’ve long ago given up on experiencing God in this lifetime, so I don’t expect that, but even Theresa of Avila says that the very beginning levels of contemplation can give us fruits of our labor. Even those entry-prayers are good.
This Easter, I will spend a good amount of time on contemplative prayer. I am thankful that American marketing and capitalism hasn’t ruined this holiday for me like it has Christmas (wow is Christmas stressful!), and I hope to use this time appropriately. Because Easter isn’t so culturally pervasive, it’s easier worship in a personal manner.
I would love to hear your comments – about faith, doubt, contemplation, meditation, what have you! – but unfortunately, I won’t be online on this sacred day. I wrote this post beforehand so that I could take the day off. But I will be bright eyed and bushy-tailed tomorrow, ready to take on anything you may say.
Once again, blessings to you this day, and a marvelous weekend to those who believe in other faiths or choose not to believe in anything.
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